Ordinary Rebels: John the Baptist
We see time and again how God has called and calls both ordinary men and women throughout history to do extraordinary things for His Kingdom purposes. Last week Jim Hatmeyer introduced a new series we are beginning titled “Ordinary Rebels”. The purpose of the series is to show that God has and always will call normal ordinary people to do extraordinary things for Him. We see this in Jesus’ ministry as he called the twelve ordinary and sinful men to be his disciples for his master plan of ushering in the Kingdom of God.
I am and we all should be encouraged by how God uses these ordinary men/rebels to forever impact and change the world for his Kingdom and glory. Their lives are truly evidenced that when Jesus becomes the Lord and Savior of your life that life and living will never ever be the same again. Pastor John MacArthur writes in his book, Twelve Ordinary Men: How the Master Shaped His Disciples for Greatness and What He Wants to Do with You, “The twelve were personally selected and called by Christ… He knew all their faults long before he chose them.”
As we read through the accounts of each one of these ordinary rebels, we see one common denominator… When Jesus calls someone to follow Him, they drop everything to follow him. The tax collector gives up his life of luxury and leaves his career behind to follow the savior. The blue-collar fishermen drop everything (this would have been their livelihood) to walk with the savior to see his grand scheme to save the world. The skeptic encounters Jesus and is challenged to “come and see for himself” this savior who does not fit the conventional description of what everyone thought the Messiah should look like. We see Philip and Andrew who are so struck with the Savior they just must go out and introduce their friends to the Lamb of God who is going to take away the sins of the world.
But, before we meet all these rebels it is important for us to look at the one who paved the way for these 12 men whom Jesus would eventually call. He maybe not so much an ordinary person, as he had some unique qualitied about him, but he is “ordinary” in the fact that he was not a person from an influential family, nor did he ever rise to a level of fame that would set him apart from others. He is John the Baptist. Today we will look at the person of John the Baptist and the role he plays in the both in the Gospel accounts and in the society he lived namely the religious rulers.
I am going to establish somethings before we get too deep into the message.
I will conclude with some personal applications, but I would like to extend an invitation for you to expand on the Word in your personal time with the Lord.
John The Baptist – We don’t know a lot about John the Baptist but what we do know we can find it in the Scriptures.
The Jews – Most often when this term is used in the Gospel account of John it refers to the religious leaders. The hierarchy of the religious order is a little complex and it is tied in with government. There was no separation of Church and state.
The Temple Order – There are many ranks and levels to the priesthood, and they are as follows…
The Religious Leaders
John 1:19 – 34
John the Evangelist (not the Baptist, but author of the Gospel of John) introduces a new topic and expands a little about this unique individual he briefly mentions in vs 15. It is believed John did not personally witness this account, so he is probably telling a well-known secondhand story of what happened.
Verse 19 – The religious leaders (probably the Sanhedrin) sent priests and Levites to question John the Baptist about who he was. They did not send in the big guns yet. They were only inquiring as to who he was… However, this was not just a casual “Who are you?” question. They were coming to find out specifically if John was the Messiah, Elijah, or the Prophet.
Israel was under Roman leadership, and they had lost their independence. So, there was a great sense of anticipation and hope for the Messiah to come and deliver the nation from the shackles of Roman rule. So it seemed the time was ripe for his first advent. The Jews believed the Messiah was coming to set Israel free from captivity and establish his Kingdom through the nation of Israel.
Verses 20 - 21 – John strongly denies he is the Messiah. He also says that He is neither Elijah nor the Prophet (which was believed to be one like Moses). They inquired about Elijah because Malachi 4:5 reads, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.” They wondered if he was the fulfillment of this prophecy in Malachi. They thought the prophet was like Moses because Deuteronomy 18:15 says, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.”
Verse 23 – John says who he is and why he has come. He is the fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3, “I am the voice crying out in the wilderness, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’” He was the one who is laying the foundation for the One who all of Israel has been anticipating… The Messiah.
Verse 25 - 28 – By what authority was he baptizing? According to D.A. Carson in his commentary on John, “There interest is in what authorizes John’s baptismal practices. It is not that baptism is unknown. Some Jewish groups practiced ‘proselyte baptism’, i.e., proselytes were baptized in the process of converting to Judaism… Candidates baptized themselves. One of the things that characterized the baptism of John the Baptist is that he administered it.” He continues, “They want to discover by what authority John is baptizing Jewish people as part of the preparation for the Kingdom of God he is announcing. Looking around for an adequate authority to sanction so extraordinary a practice, they wonder if he is an (end times) figure.”
Verse 29 – The day after John’s encounter with the religious leaders John sees Jesus coming towards him and proclaims, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” To the modern Christian (or even to anyone post death and resurrection of Jesus) this statement is an understandable statement and think little of its meaning and how radical of a statement it was coming from John the Baptist. Some have debated even if John the Baptist understood to a degree the significance of what he was saying.
The Messiah the Jews were anticipating was considered a man who was strong, charismatic, a leader, and one who was going to usher in the Kingdom of God and establish Israel as God’s nation once again. To the Jews the Messiah was not going to be one who would be humiliated, hated and eventually murdered as a common thief. A sacrificed lamb was probably the last thing on their minds. They had high hopes for the Chosen One.
D.A. Carson writes in his commentary on the Gospel of John, “Modern Christians are so familiar with the entire clause that it takes effort of imagination to recognize that, before the coming and death of Jesus, it (the Lamb of God) was not an obvious messianic designation.” In other words, the title “lamb of God” was not a common reference to the coming Messiah.
However, John knows (from when Jesus was baptized, and the Spirit descended on Him like a dove) that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. He proclaims publicly Jesus as the Messiah.
Verses 30 – 34 – In verse 30 John affirms Jesus as Messiah. He states that Jesus was before him (even though John was older than Jesus). Jesus was confirmed for John the Baptist as the chosen one previously when Jesus was baptized by John (probably a week before this encounter) and the Spirit of God descended on Jesus like a dove and remained on Him. In Isaiah 42:1 the prophet writes that God will put his Spirit on His servant (the Chosen One) and he will bring forth justice to the nations.
John admits that before this encounter at the baptism he didn’t know Jesus was the Messiah. John knew Jesus since they were cousins, and they most likely had some sort of relationship before this. However, at the baptism Jesus was confirmed to John to be the Chosen Messiah.
As I was studying this passage, I thought about not only are we introduced to two new characters in this story but also to two opposing attitudes when it comes to our relationship with God. These two groups are characterized as heart changers and rule followers.
John the Baptist’s ministry (and life for that matter) was devoted to pointing people to Jesus. He was a heart changer. He knew his place in life. He had a humble (and strong) spirit about him. He was not about self-promotion, he was about Jesus promotion. He had no agenda of his own. His concern was God’s agenda. He was more concerned with people being right with God through preaching a message of baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins. His purpose was to show people a new way of life and a real relationship with God through the Messiah (Jesus Christ).
The Jews (or religious leaders) on the other hand, were all about the rules, conformity, and power. Their whole lives and ministry were bound to keeping the law and being pious. Their “religion” was more about doing than being. They were very much into self-promotion and power simply by imposing rules and regulations on people based on their interpretations and beliefs. Their clothes were lavish, their concern was with status, and their attitudes were conceit. They had no concern for God’s agenda; they were more concerned with their agenda and promoting their will. There was no talk of repentance and forgiveness and submitting to God. Their message was about the rules and regulations. Their righteousness was based in outwardly keeping the rules.
When we look at these groups, we are reminded of how these attitudes are still among us today.
Unfortunately, there are still people and attitudes among us today of the rule changers. These are individuals who depend on “doing” more than “being”. In their minds their fulfillment of duties and “being a good person” are all they need to be a Christian. They attend church on a semi regular basis, they try to be moral (but like all of us fail every so often). Maybe they will put some (in some cases a lot of) money in the plate when it comes around. There is little to no change in heart; they are the same person they have always been and maybe there is a little compartment in their life for God (on Sunday or when they are in a difficult situation. You get the picture.
There are still heart changers in this world today. There are believers who are committed to Christ promotion and preaching a message of repentance and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. They understand their spirituality or faith is not a result of keeping rules and pointing out the sins of others in judgmental and self-righteous ways. They are who they are because they are submitted, committed and obedient to the one (Jesus) who has shown us the way to the Kingdom. A heart changer receives a new heart when Jesus becomes their Lord and Savior. 2 Cor, 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” This means that they don’t just become better versions of themselves, they become new creations in Christ. The old has passed away and the new has come.
The question I leave with you today is… Are you a heart changer or are you a rule follower in your relationship with Jesus? Are you putting all your chips in the false beliefs that you are a good moral person and follow the rules as insurance or assurance of eternal life? Or have you repented of your sins, sought forgiveness, and given your heart completely over to Jesus to completely transform your life?
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Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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